Why Carson Palmer Is Not an Elite NFL Quarterback

Kevin Roberts@BreakingKevinSenior Writer IFebruary 14, 2010

CINCINNATI - JANUARY 9:  Quarterback Carson Palmer #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals looks down at his helmet late in the fourth quarter against the New York Jets during the 2010 AFC wild-card playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium on January 9, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

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The first time Carson Palmer was viewed as a "potentially" elite NFL quarterback, he was throwing passes for USC, gaining momentum and hype on his way to the 2003 NFL Draft.

Then came the second time he was to be viewed as a "potentially" (there's that word again) elite NFL quarterback , when the Cincinnati Bengals spent the first pick in the 2003 draft on him, making him their quarterback of the future.

Their "franchise" guy. You know, the guy that would be trusted to help them win their first Super Bowl. Or, *gulp*, a playoff game.

But even after all the hype and the big selection, all of Ohio was forced to wait.

And so was Palmer.

The former USC-product sat on the bench for every single moment of his rookie season, not taking a single snap, as he watched veteran Jon Kitna show him the ropes.

Palmer got his first chance the next season, in 2004, and threw for just under 3,000 yards, while throwing 18 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.

He went 6-7 as a starter in 13 games before missing the final three weeks with an injury. Not bad for a "rookie". Not bad at all.

Palmer didn't stop there, however, as he put together a fantastic Pro Bowl season, as he threw 32 touchdowns, 3,868 yards, and just 12 interceptions, as he led the Bengals to an 11-5 record, and it's first playoff berth in 15 years.

The guy was on fire. He was the hero of Ohio. Nothing could touch him.

Except, of course, a hit to the knee that tore his ACL and ended his (and the Bengals) 2005 playoff run after just one pass (a nice 66-yarder, though).

The Bengals proceeded to lose the game to the division-rival Steelers (who went on to win the Super Bowl), and from there, well, it got ugly.

Palmer returned in 2006 and attempted to shake the demons, both physically and mentally, but it was clear that he wasn't completely comfortable for much of the year.

However, despite that, Palmer finished with great numbers for the second year in a row, as he threw 28 touchdowns, while topping 4,000 yards passing for the first time in his career.

His seven fumbles added with his 13 interceptions on the season, however, and played a big part in Cincinnati's overall drop-off and mediocre 8-8 finish.

The fumbles and slip in record were the start. Disaster was slowly brewing in Cincy, and while many gung-ho fans would like to think otherwise, a lot of it was coming straight from Palmer.

His decision-making and carelessness with the ball in general led to another unproductive finish in 2007, as the team finished at 7-9, powered behind Palmer's career-high 20 interceptions.

While he managed to pass for at least 26 touchdowns for the third year in a row, including his second straight 4,000-yard season, Palmer's level of play was inconsistent and erratic, and he simply didn't come up big when the Bengals needed him the most.

At this point in his career, however, it'd be more than insensitive to force all the blame on Palmer. He was managing an offense that was one of the more explosive groups in the league, while backed by a defense that was inconsistent and susceptible to giving up big plays.

A Week Two loss to the Cleveland Browns, where the Bengals lost 51-45, best displayed this, as Cincinnati fell, despite Palmer throwing for over 400 yards and six touchdowns.

But that's where the fairy tale ends.

That's the last point in Palmer's story where you can honestly say that he was better than average, that he could rival some of the other elite quarterbacks, and that he "had what it takes."

Then came 2008, where Palmer was absolutely awful (and not just in numbers) through his first (and only) four starts (all losses), as he threw just three touchdowns to four interceptions, while completing just 58 percent of his passes.

His team wasn't doing him any favors, and it was soon discovered that he had a serious arm injury, but there's still no denying a dramatic drop-off.

Out of nowhere, the once-promising Palmer had fallen from elite status, to the land of forgottens.

He finished the season in street clothes, missing the final 10 weeks, as the Bengals meandered through a disastrous 4-12 finish.

But his offense was falling apart. His defense wasn't doing him any favors. And his arm injury, well, when you add it all up, it just wasn't the guy's fault.

Maybe, and maybe not. But that's not the argument.

A lot of things happen in a quarterback's career, long or short, and many of them are out of the quarerback's hands.

They get sacked, they gain and lose productive offensive weapons, and they have or don't have consistent rushing attacks.

Their overall environment can and will change from season-to-season, based on free agency, the draft, and coaching philosophies.

Palmer wasn't playing well, the Bengals weren't winning, and he got hurt. That's his 2008, and he and the rest of Ohio have to deal with it.

They also have to deal with the fact that, regardless of his solid overall numbers in 2007, he still threw 20 picks and led the Bengals to just seven wins. Or that, since winning 11 games in his second season, Palmer spent three seasons as a leader of a team with eight or less wins.

A passer with good stats, sure. But a winner? A truly elite quarterback? Not even close.

Ah, but every star that has fallen deserves a chance to get back up, right?

Of course. I'm not one to beat a man while he is down, so naturally, Palmer's most recent season (2009), should be taken into affect, as well.

By all means.

Palmer got things rolling with his own tongue in the 2009 offseason, being quoted as saying that his offense would be better, and then he believed they were going to "surprise" some people.

He was right. The Bengals stormed off to an impressive 7-2 start, swept their biggest division rivals (Ravens and Steelers), won their division, and earned their second playoff berth under Palmer.

While that's all grand, a close look suggests it had very little to do with Palmer, and that while getting to the playoffs is nice, it was a very over-rated appearance.

Palmer had a decent season at first glance, passing for 21 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions, while also topping 3,000 yards.

He even had a sensational five-touchdown game against the Chicago Bears in Week Seven, prompting fantasy sports writers everywhere to tell their followers to add Palmer to their rosters.

He was on the verge of returning to pre-2007 form.

Not quite.

After his five-touchdown teaser game, Palmer stood with the Bengals at 5-2, and he had thrown 13 of his 21 touchdown passes.

However, in his final nine games, Palmer went 5-4 as a starter, throwing just eight touchdowns, while having just one game during that entire stretch with over 230 yards passing.

Yes, the Bengals relied on Cedric Benson and the running game. Yes, Chad Ochocinco was about all Palmer really had going for him.

But let's face it; those numbers are just sad.

His performance down the stretch was unacceptable, as he handed in a horrid showing against the Minnesota Vikings in a big late-season road game, passing for just 94 yards on 25 attempts.

Then he finished the regular season against the New York Jets, going 1-for-11 for zero yards, one interception, and a 1.7 passer rating in a horrible 37-0 loss.

Writers and fans alike said that the Bengals weren't trying, that Palmer would get it together at home in the next week against the Jets (they faced them again in the first round of the playoffs), but it wouldn't be so.

Palmer completed just 50 percent of his 36 attempts against New York in that game, passing for just 146 yards, one touchdown, and one pick, while also taking three sacks.

But that's not all on him. You can't dog the guy for trying; for playing with one card (Ochocinco) in a game where it takes at least two or three to win.

However, in that same breath, you can expect more out of him.

For a first round pick, the first pick in his draft, Palmer needs to do better.

He's thrown 37 interceptions in his last 36 starts. He's turned the ball over a combined 40 times during that span, while leading the Bengals to an under-whelming 17-19 record.

There's no denying his first four seasons. The guy had some solid, quick success, and put up some big numbers in what was a surprisingly effective Bengals offense for a few years.

But he's not the same quarterback anymore. Perhaps adding Matt Jones and another receiver or tight end can change that. Maybe beefing up the offensive line to give him more protection will make him look better.

Perhaps. Maybe. Who knows?

This isn't about whether or not Palmer is a good quarterback anymore. He's already established himself, at least in the past-tense, as a guy who at one time had a firm hold on this league.

But is Carson Palmer an elite quarterback? Definitely not.

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